Our Woman in Indy: Christine Manchester Reports from Partners in Community Forestry Conference

chris-manchester
Chris Manchester

ISA Certified Arborist Christine (Chris) Manchester is the naturalist and sustainability coordinator for the Town of Dewitt, and as such she is heavily involved in the oversight of Dewitt’s urban forest. The NYSUFC provided financial assistance to Manchester to reimburse some of her expenses to attend the Partners in Community Forestry Conference last November 16-17 in Indianapolis. Additional support was provided by the Arbor Day Foundation and NYSDEC.

“I can’t thank the Council enough,” she says. “I had a great time, met some very interesting people (there were 559 registered), and gained valuable information. Thank you for this opportunity.” Manchester prepared a presentation about her take-aways from the conference and how they apply most to the work that she does for the Town of DeWitt. That presentation is excerpted here.

Christine Manchester:

The opportunity to network with this many people who are facing many of the same challenges nationally doesn’t present itself every day. Through an informal tally, the majority of people raised their hands that they had been in urban forestry for less than 10 years. There were so many incredible presentations—but there were a couple of topics that resonated with me more than others. The take-aways for me were: 1) partnership/collaboration, 2) thinking about trees as infrastructure and incorporating plantings into streetscapes and 3) focusing on planting trees in poor residential areas.

canal-walk-before-sunset
Indianapolis canal walk. Photo by Michelle Sutton

But first, a few things about this beautiful city. Indianapolis is the 14th largest city in nation, with a population of 903,000. Indianapolis is part of the Eastern Corn Belt Plains ecoregion, consisting mainly of a rolling till plain with local end moraines. As a result, it has fairly loamy and well drained soils. It is located in Zone 5B/6A (similar to DeWitt). Ash trees comprise roughly 10% of the entire tree population, EAB has arrived, and ALB is coming. Indianapolis is home to the capital building, multiple museums, sports complexes, parks, greenspaces, and much more.

Beloved Mayor Bill Hudnut served the City of Indianapolis from 1976-1992. Keep Indianapolis Beautiful (KIB) began as a litter campaign under this mayor, who was a former minister. KIB is now a very successful non-profit whose mission is “to engage diverse communities to create vibrant public places, helping people and nature thrive.” They began a tree planting campaign of 100,000 trees with no budget after hearing a presentation about a project in the South Bronx, where they hired young people to take care of their trees. This was a pivotal moment for KIB. They followed this model and have employed 400+ young people and planted over 50,000 trees.

I see partnership opportunities to improve DeWitt’s urban forest in the following areas: planting, watering, pruning, long-term maintenance, removal, and increased green Infrastructure opportunities. Currently, we partner with multiple organizations and agencies including: Onondaga Earth Corps, Cornell Cooperative Extension, SUNY ESF, and Onondaga Environmental Institute. However, there is opportunity to expand and strengthen these relationships. I would like to see us find more opportunities to engage youth in tree care.

My favorite session at Partners was “Using Urban Trees for Stormwater Management: The State of the Science” with Peter MacDonagh from Kestrel Design Group. Can we use green infrastructure to reduce flooding while cleaning water? This session focused on managing a 1” rain/hour. In urban settings, 55% of rain is runoff. The old paradigm is to install a huge pipe to manage localized flooding; this is very expensive. The emerging paradigm supports installing a medium pipe plus trees; for maximum environmental benefit, we want trees to live in the landscape for 50 years. Ideally we want to see 20”/year growth on branches. Less than 5”/year spells problems. By year five, hackberry can intercept 150 gallons of water. By year 40, a hackberry can intercept 5000 gallons of water.

On the downtown walking tour we saw an example of a failed green infrastructure project due to poor planning. The designers did not account for the abundance of salt that is used on roadways and walkways in the colder climates. As a result, the water that was captured in the tree wells was too salty. After soil testing and multiple conversations, the cisterns were disconnected and the greenery is watered through a municipal water source.

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There are 29 Indiana Pacers Bikeshare stations in downtown Indianapolis. Photo by Michelle Sutton

Gary Cooper from Duke University gave a very enlightening presentation about redlining practices from the 1930s that eerily echoed another recent presentation from Dr. Emanuel Carter of SUNY-ESF. Redlining of cities in the 1930s has a long-lived unfortunate legacy. The Homeowners Loan Corporation assigned value to homes based on a visual assessment. This rating system determined how much federal loan backing the property was eligible for.

An “A” ranking was eligible to receive 100% federal backing and a “D” ranking was not eligible for any federal backing. Some of the criteria for an “A-Green” ranking were “hot” spots with new, well planned development and a homogenous composition. By contrast, the definition of a “D-Red” ranking included language such as “undesirable population,” “vandalism,” “slums,” “flooding,” and other terms riddled with racial biases.

This practice from the 1930s devalued properties and they are still struggling today. This presentation underscored the need to engage with poorer neighborhoods. They are the most vulnerable and sometimes the least likely to accept trees but often in have the greatest need. Trees have been proven to increase property values, reduce crime, and improve livability.

Our Dewitt Tree Committee is evolving and serves a vital role in the Town’s tree planting program. Ways that the Town might secure additional assistance and community involvement include:

  • Create Tree Stewards that are overseen and embedded with the Tree Committee
    1. Community level stewards (ambassadors) who can champion the cause
    2. Maintain trees from planting to five years old
  • Help forge partnerships with youth groups to water young trees throughout summer dry months
  • Target areas for planting
  • Advocate for funding

How do we accomplish this? Seek out community ambassadors and stewards, college and high school students, Extension, and more.

Stephanie Miller and Alan Siewert of the Ohio Division of Forestry partnered with their local extension office as they were facing multiple challenges including an aging tree commission, EAB, and the Great Recession (doing more with less). They wanted an easy tool to match tough tree species with harsh sites and more sensitive species with higher quality sites while increasing species diversity and survivability. They created an Urban Site Index (USI) to gauge soil quality and to better predict tree future growth.

The USI assigns a number between 0 to 20 for a street or site. An entire community can be surveyed in a short period of time. They wanted to know, in simple terms: How big is the space? How tough is the site? What are the constraints?

Soil Factors
Vegetation Compaction Probe Penetration Soil Development
0-3 0-3 0-3 0-3
0=NO soil; 3=lush lawn 0=concrete; 3=sink in 0=Can’t penetrate; 3=easy to get through 0=No soil profile, no horizons; 3=topsoil and horizons
Street Factors
Speed Limit Number of Lanes Availability of Parking Length Between Stops
0-2 0-2 1-2 0-2
0=<=30; 2=55 0=No lanes; 2=multiple 1=No parking; 2=Parking 0=No stop signs; 2=frequent stop signs

Add up the score sheet:

No tree = 0-8
Hardy tree = 9-11
Intermediate 12-15
Sensitive Tree 15+

Supplies: Street map, data collection sheet, markers, pencil, and probe/shovel.

Benefits include the ability for large-range planning that is easy and inexpensive; this takes the guesswork out of annual planning; you get buy-in from the residents early in the process; the ability to work with nurseries up front is easier; and this process makes ground truthing easier.

Some other areas important areas that should be considered include working across departments for better decision-making regarding the planting and maintenance of trees in the rights-of-way. For example, the cost to plant and maintain trees should be calculated. The tree planting process during development could be pulled out of the planning process and trees could be planted by the Town after development is complete. This alternative option allows for consistent planting and ensures species diversity on residential and commercial properties. Another example is restoring planting strips during road reconstruction that includes curb cuts and green infrastructure.

A paradigm shift is required for optimum success. We need to think of the benefits that trees provide beyond their aesthetic value and consider them part of the gray and green infrastructure system. Residents and businesses don’t have decision making power over the placement of fire hydrants, utility poles, and catch basins. Should they be allowed the liberty to choose tree species and planting location? One final food for thought is a method to calculate loss of removed trees from the landscape. Dave Nowak is suggesting using leaf area and DBH as a metric for calculating tree loss. Convert leaf cover to trees then convert to dollars.

Here’s the info about the Partners Conference in 2017 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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